Thursday, 22 November 2018

Review of Magical Unicorns at musée de Cluny, Paris

Magical Unicorns
Musée de Cluny, Paris
14 July 2018 – 25 February 2019

One might be forgiven for presuming us to be at the zenith of unicorn mania, with the proliferation of cute, rainbow-coloured stationery items, cuddly toys, horned hoodies and woolly hats for children – and adults (in particular, as a symbol of the LGBTQI community) – not to mention the myriad ranges of bath and shower products, soaps and perfumes. Don’t be fooled, however, for the unicorn as a “brand” has been all the rage since the middle ages, and, in fact, even dates back as far as antiquity, with the Greek physician Ctésias describing the creature, at the end of the fifth century BC, as “a large donkey with a tri-coloured horn”. 

The unicorn’s previous highpoint of popular fame was in the 1500s, however, when, as a symbol of virginity, it was integrated into the religious iconography of the annunciation, where the archangel Gabriel was frequently depicted as a hunter, urging the unicorn forward towards the Virgin Mary. It was also at the start of the 16th century that the Le Viste family, members of which held key positions in the Parisian parliament of the time, commissioned a set of six tapestries – wool and silk on a sumptuous red millefleurs background and boasting about 30 different shades and colours of dye. Rediscovered around 1814, the tapestries came into the collection of the Musée de Cluny in 1882. These tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, form the centrepiece of this small but enlightening exhibition, which traces the history of the mythical beast from, well, when it wasn’t considered mythical, to the present day. 

Read the full review here

Monday, 19 November 2018

Review of Lotte Laserstein: Face to Face at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Lotte Laserstein: Face to Face
Städel Museum, Frankfurt
19 September 2018 – 17 March 2019

Face to face. An appropriate title for an exhibition so largely comprised of portraits – among them a large proportion of self-portraits. For, surrounded by these canvases of Lotte Laserstein (1898-1993), one feels beset by myriad pairs of eyes. She is usually categorised as an artist of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), alongside her male contemporaries Otto Dix, George Grosz and Christian Schad, but her style is really quite different from theirs – devoid of political satire and containing far more empathy, intimacy, and, dare I say it at the risk of sounding disingenuous, femininity. 

Laserstein grew up in a very female environment, with her mother, her sister, Käte, and her aunt and grandmother, following the death of her father in 1902. Fortunately, there was enough family money for both daughters to study and Laserstein was one of the first generation of women accepted into the Berlin Art Academy, in 1921 – two large charcoal drawings of male nudes evidence that she also attended life classes while there. Bear in mind that she was painting at the same time as, for example, the artists of the expressionist group, Die Brücke, and her style might seem a little old fashioned and venerating of art history – “more academy than avant garde”, as Kolja Reichert wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (23 September 2018). One hypothesis put forward by the exhibition texts is that, belonging to this first generation of educated female artists, she lacked the rebellious streak of many of her male contemporaries, wishing instead to prove her technical ability. Vermeer, for example, was one artist she openly declared to be a great influence on her, and aspects of the Dutch master’s style can be detected, especially, perhaps, in her choice of palette.

Read the full review here

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Review of Paula Becker and Otto Modersohn: Art and Life at the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen

Paula Becker and Otto Modersohn: Art and Life
Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen
25 August 2018 – 6 January 2019

As I fall asleep in my narrow, creaking bed, with my close friend and travelling companion in the one beside me, I imagine the myriad conversations that took place in this room more than a century ago – between the artist Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), whose atelier this was, and her close girlfriend, the sculptor Clara Rilke-Westhoff (1878-1954), as well as with her husband and fellow painter, Otto Modersohn (1865-1943), and Clara’s husband, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). What art critical and philosophical discourses might I have been party to, had I been a fly on the wall all those years previously? Outside the atelier (now a holiday apartment), the village of Worpswede retains the charm that attracted a colony of artists, spearheaded by Fritz Mackensen (1866-1953), to assemble here from 1884, and their varying houses can now be visited as museums and galleries, filled with paintings of the typical cottages with their roofs sloping down to the ground (exemplified by the atelier building itself, although the roof of the studio room was lifted, by Modersohn, to create a well-lit working space for his wife), the surrounding moor, the canal that was built to transport peat excavated from the moor to Bremen (30km to the southwest) on small boats with tar-brown sails, silvery birch trees and endless open skies. 

Read the full review here

Review of A New Spirit Then, A New Spirit Now, 1981-2018 at Almine Rech Gallery

A New Spirit Then, A New Spirit Now, 1981-2018
Almine Rech Gallery, London
2 October – 17 November 2018

In 1981, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, hosted a seminal presentation of 20th-century painting, co-curated by Norman Rosenthal, Christos M Joachimides and Nicholas Serota. At a time when the relevance of figurative painting was in question, these three white male curators put together an equally all-male exhibition, comprising more than 150 works by 38 established and emerging artists, arguing persuasively that there was life in the old dog yet – and, moreover, that an old dog could be taught new tricks. Alongside older generation painters, such as Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning and the godfather of modern painting, Pablo Picasso, the exhibition introduced a number of young unknowns, including Francesco Clemente and Gerhard Richter. 

Now, nearly four decades later, Rosenthal has curated an, albeit significantly condensed, follow-up, revisiting this defining moment in his curatorial career, and re-posing the still-pertinent question about the relevance of painting in an art world so dominated by the conceptual, multimedia, and, increasingly, the virtual. This time, 15 artists have been selected, with a painting each, 13 of them from the original roll call, with two women – Maria Lassnig and Susan Rothenberg – added, Rosenthal says, as a “kind of apology” and to redress the balance (if two out of 15 can be said to do that!). Apart from Picasso’s L’Homme au chapeau de paille (1964), all the works have been made since the first exhibition ended (in fact, all but his and Lassnig’s, since 2000).

Read the full review here

Interview: Marilyn Stafford

Interview: Marilyn Stafford
October 2018

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, in 1925, Marilyn Stafford never intended to become a photographer, yet her career is one of the most distinguished there could be. Having started out almost accidentally photographing Albert Einstein – for friends who were shooting a film and asked her to help them out – she moved to Paris, where her mentors included Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, and where, alongside commissioned fashion photography, she also developed her documentary skills, photographing children living in one of the city’s worst slums (later bulldozed to make way for Paris Opera Bastille). Her onward path took her from Lebanon to India – where she spent several weeks with Indira Gandhi – and later to the London of the Swinging Sixties, where, juggling the challenges of single motherhood, she worked as one of very few women photographers on Fleet Street. Since retiring from photography in 1980, Stafford has lived in the sleepy town of Shoreham-by-Sea on the south coast of England. She is far from absent from the photographic scene, however, and, in 2017, set up the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award, facilitated by FotoDocument and now also supported by Olympus, to help professional female photographers around the world with documentary photo projects addressing social, environmental, economic and cultural issues.

Read the full interview here

Meet the Collectors: Horace Walpole

Published in the autumn 2018 issue of Art Quarterly magazine

Interview: Cathie Pilkington at Pallant House Gallery

Published in the autumn 2018 issue of Art Quarterly magazine